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The War Years (1939-1945)

The WI continued tea at its monthly meetings. Lady Tweedsmuir’s impassioned plea not to drop these, because of their social importance, "even if you have to drink cold water and gnaw a carrot" was not ignored. Everyone brought a pinch of their own tea from their ration to make what they called the Elsfield blend. At the first meeting after Lady Tweedsmuir returned from Canada, Mrs Kreyer gave a talk on salvage. Bones could be made into fat, glue and manure, she said. As the war went on, bones became scarcer because dogs were fed on scraps. Bones, ash and swill were kept separately, and all paper was saved for re-manufacture. It was taken to the Manor and collected by Mrs Balfour of Holton Park who collected for the whole district.

The WI arranged to use the school as a rest centre in case of an air raid in Elsfield. That would have been adequate for a stray bomb but they were worried about what would happen if Oxford were attacked and people flooded out of the city into the country, as had happened in Southampton and Portsmouth.

Throughout the war, the women of Elsfield WI knitted for the forces and the Merchant Navy and towards the end of the war "with a feeling of joyous relief" at having pink wool provided for small children in liberated Europe. (Greece and Holland, among other places.)

According to Miss Deneke, the later evacuation was much better planned. In the second wave of evacuations, the 25 cottages were already full so Miss Deneke had to turn again to the farms, which were the only houses with any spare capacity, These however were reserved for soldiers and land workers. Miss Parsons said "with trembling lip" that she would take a "nice mother and baby". Lady Tweedsmuir had arranged her own evacuees, among them a Mrs Robinson, a London housing expert, who took over some of Miss Deneke’s responsibilities.

Nine further children were brought to Elsfield privately and proper billeting allowances were negotiated by Mrs Robinson. The Vicarage, too, had self-evacuated people who came and went. The children from London were intelligent but unruly. Most were from Holborn and they missed fish and chips, the streets, the shops, and found it difficult to adapt to life in the country so didn’t stay long.

The school garden was involved in digging for victory. The children knitted for the Merchant Navy and collected books for servicemen. They collected waste paper - half a ton - which was stored at the Manor, and horsechestnuts for medicinal purposes which were sent to the national and county collections, and they corresponded with US children after Pearl Harbour in late 1941.

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